Les Murray

The reasons for rhyme, and the rhyme of his reasons, can be found in the prose work in the pieces ‘Poems and Poesies’ and ‘Poemes and the Mystery of the Embodiment’, the general underpinnings of which are outlined in ‘Embodiment and Incarnation’. He argues that art is a product of a trinity: the forebrain (the seat of waking reason), the limbic reptilian brain (the dream) and the body (the dance of ecstasy). God can reach us through all three, and poetry is a uniquely placed art which exploits all of these areas. Any deep integration of the three is a poem. Hence a theology (Christianity), an ideology (Marxism), or a breath-taking design (Porsche cars) can be a poem. Using the analogy from phoneme, Murray calls this large unit a ‘poeme’. ‘Poem’ he reserves for its traditional meaning, arguing that a poem is the most perfect and integrated art-form there is.

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What is more common than the indicative mood, and what is more uncommon than the way Les Murray uses it? His Christian finger ‘scratches the other cheek’ (‘The Quality of Sprawl’) but more often points out tracks seen from the air, but invisible on the ground: a hibiscus becomes ‘the kleenex flower’ (‘A Retrospect of Humidity’); the shower an ‘inverse bidet,/ sleek vertical coruscating ghost of your inner river’ (‘Shower’); a north-coast punt ‘just a length of country road / afloat between two shores’ (‘Machine Portraits with Pendant Spaceman’). You see it in his use of the demonstrative pronoun – ‘this blast of trance’ (‘Shower’); the definite article – The man imposing spring here swats with his branch controlling it’(‘The Grassfire Stanzas’)’; the deictic use of ‘I’ and ‘we’ to get his readers looking in the same direction as he points out where we are and where we’ve come from – ‘So we’re sitting over our sick beloved engine / atop a great building of the double century / on the summit that exhilarates cars, the concrete vault on its thousands / of tonnes of height, far above the tidal turnaround’ (‘Fuel Stoppage on Gladesville Road Bridge in the Year 1980’).

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Perhaps only John Shaw Neilson and Judith Wright have brought an equal sense of place to Australian poetry: the sense of place as a fact of consciousness with geographic truth. But in his latest collection, Biplane Houses, Les Murray considers more airy habitations – flights, cliff roads and weather – and the collection has a matching airiness that is only sometimes lightness ...

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You might expect a book of eighty-eight new poems by Les Murray to be sizeable (most of his recent single volumes run to about sixty poems each). But Poems the Size of Photographs is literally a small book, composed of short poems (‘though some are longer’, says the back cover) ...

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Peter Goldsworthy reviews 'Collected Poems' by Les Murray

Peter Goldsworthy
Monday, 26 November 2018

A seven-hundred-page Collected Poems? The cover photograph of the Big Bloke himself is an embodiment of what’s inside in all its sprawling abundance. As is his surname, which can’t help but invoke our country’s big river, whether in full flood, or slow trickle, or slow spreading billabongs ...

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'Waiting for the Past' by Les Murray

Stephen Edgar
Monday, 27 April 2015
My first reaction on picking up Les Murray’s new collection, Waiting for the Past, was to note how handsomely produced it is ... ... (read more)

'A Denizen', a new poem by Les Murray

Les Murray
Saturday, 02 March 2013

The octopus is dead
who lived in Wylies Baths
below the circus balustrade
and the chocked sea tiles.

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In his polemical Introduction, Les Murray notes that Quadrant was founded sixty years ago by poet James McAuley, the ‘stern formalist’ who ensured that poetry occupied a prominent place in the magazine. Poetry has continued to be central to Quadrant, its profile not waning under Murray’s stewardship as ...

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John Ross (ed.): The Penguin Book of Australian Bush Writing

Susan K. Martin
Monday, 27 February 2012

Afternoon tea

Susan K. Martin


The Penguin Book of Australian Bush Writing
edited by John Ross
Viking, $32.95 pb, 356 pp, 9780670076413


Twinings has recently introduced a new tea flavour called ‘Australian Afternoon Tea’. On the box is an image ...

David McCooey reviews 'Taller When Prone' by Les Murray

David McCooey
Thursday, 01 April 2010

It is a critical truism, if not a cliché, that poetry estranges: it makes things strange, so that we can see the world and ourselves afresh. Defamiliarisation, the uncanny, even metaphor, are all fundamental to poetry’s estranging power. Unsurprisingly, madness, vision and love have also long been poetry’s intimates, each involving the radical reformation – or deformation – of ‘normal’ ways of seeing the world. One might describe poetry as surprisingly antisocial, since poets have from ancient times been associated with social isolation, distance or elevation, as well as with madness.

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